TAMPA — Digital billboards are probably coming to Tampa, but in smaller numbers.
The City Council on Thursday voted to scale back the number of billboards allowed in an ordinance proposed by city attorneys. A vote on the rules is scheduled for May 6.
The ordinance presented Thursday would have allowed Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS to install 16 billboards each on interstates and major roadways. That idea was endorsed by billboard companies and reluctantly accepted by neighborhood leaders who have fought the bright signs. The signs can change images every 10 to 15 seconds, depending on the location.
But council member John Dingfelder suggested limiting the companies to six billboards each and revisiting the ordinance in two years.
"Let's dip our toe in," Dingfelder said. "Then we can gauge the community's reaction. Because this is not just about safety; it's about aesthetics."
Council members Tom Scott, Linda Saul-Sena and Charlie Miranda supported Dingfelder's compromise.
Mary Mulhern voted against it, saying that she would rather wait to vote on any electronic billboard rules until a federal study on their safety is complete.
"There's no reason for us to make this decision now," she said. "I don't see this as a public benefit. The only people it benefits are a few large companies."
Seminole Heights resident Randy Baron, who has been among a group of neighborhood leaders fighting the proposal, said he liked Dingfelder's idea.
"In a perfect world, there would be no billboards at all," he said. "But we don't live in a perfect world."
The debate about digital billboards, which currently aren't allowed in Tampa, has dragged on for well over a year.
The city was pressed into coming up with an ordinance to settle long-running lawsuits with Clear Channel and CBS that began after the city required the companies to take down billboards to improve the look of roads but offered no options for relocation.
The companies settled the lawsuits in November. But the agreements came with the stipulation that the companies could opt out of them if the city failed to approve digital billboards.
Marilyn Healy, an attorney for CBS, said an ordinance allowing six digital signs would be enough to keep the agreement in place.
Tom O'Neill, vice president of real estate and public affairs for Clear Channel, said the proposal would need review "through our large corporate system."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.